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The long session of the One-Hundred and Sixth Legislature has come to an end and to say that my first session was a learning experience would be an understatement. Of course learning about the various issues that come before the Legislature is of paramount importance – even what initially appears as the simplest of matters is complex when appropriately scrutinized. But the learning doesn’t stop there. One must learn to master the parliamentary rules of procedure, to build diverse relationships, to know exactly when to speak and when to listen, and learn to work tirelessly to reach a compromise.
Unfortunately, the Legislature was unable to achieve this last point on two major issues – property tax relief and business incentives. Without a doubt, high property taxes, and taxes in general, are a major concern for a majority of Nebraskans. Our over-reliance on property taxes to fund local governments, particularly schools, was a discussion that dominated the session. Two different proposals came before the legislative body, LB 289 and LB 183, but neither could overcome opposition from several different fronts – including the Governor, school districts, people in the service industry and everyday consumers. Both measures included provisions that would raise several taxes and impose a sales tax on many services currently exempt. In the end, any property tax relief would have been mitigated by the large shift to sales taxes.
My philosophy is the only way to reduce Nebraska’s tax burden, particularly the property tax burden, is to grow our overall tax base. The best way to do this is to attract new jobs and new workers to our state. While many view business incentives as a giveaway of government resources, the fact of the matter is we are competing with the rest of the country for the businesses that attract a vibrant workforce. Our current business incentive program, which expires next year, is not without flaws and a measure considered this year sought to remedy those problems. LB 720, the ImagiNE Act, would have replaced the current incentive program with one that is more transparent, easier for businesses to navigate, capped on cost and geared towards better paying jobs. Yet, the inability to compromise on a tax package ultimately derailed LB 720. There is still time to adopt a new incentive program next session, but failure to have such a program in place signals that Nebraska is not open for business. That means fewer jobs and fewer people to pay for essential government services.
Of course many Nebraskans are of the opinion, myself included, that essential government services need to be better defined and that perhaps there are areas where spending cuts could be made. Having said that, however, the Legislature did pass a considerably lean budget this year in which potential cuts were not obvious. The two-year budget package allows for an annual increase in state spending of a modest 2.9%. Most of that increase can be attributed to obligations such as aid to education and Medicaid, including the Medicaid expansion approved by voters.
During the legislative interim, I will continue to study the issues that are important to my constituents and that benefit the state of Nebraska. I believe serving in the Legislature will be an on-going learning process and I am very thankful I have been given this unique opportunity. I look forward to the next legislative session